CPA to CFO Ep. 04 | Ronette Kite, Start-up CFO / SoCal Lead at Countsy

CPA to CFO Ep. 04 | Ronette Kite, Start-up CFO / SoCal Lead at Countsy


(upbeat music) ♪ FloQast ♪ ♪ Podcast ♪ – [Mike] Thank you to
everyone for joining us today. My name’s Mike Whitmire. I’m the co-founder and CEO of FloQast. And today, we’re doing our fourth episode of our CPA to CFO podcast series. For some context here, my
background is in accounting. I’m a CPA and used to be in the space. And when I was an
accountant, my career goal was to always become a CFO. And in founding FloQast and
working with a lot of great CFOs and kind of seeing how companies scaled, I just realized I didn’t
really know what skills I would have needed to make that leap. So that was the inspiration
for this series, is reaching out speaking with CFOs of different backgrounds, to
really give advice to CPAs and help us all move up within our career. So today I’m really excited. We have Ronette Kite on the line today. And let’s stop talking
about me and my background. Let’s kick straight into you. So I wanna get to know you a
little bit on a personal level before talking career. So can you just tell us a
little bit about yourself? – [Ronette] Sure. Thanks Mike and thanks for having me. So my name is Ronette Kite and I have actually two kids. One is 11 and nine. So I’m a mom of two young ones. So my life of juggling quite a bit, you know, during the weekend
and the weeks is an art. So my kids are very involved in sports and have various activities. We like to give our kids opportunities to try different things outside of school, and one of the things that we are really
involved with is baseball. My son, actually, we
just got back this summer which was all-star season. Our son’s team went pretty
far through divisional state. So excited to watch the
Little League World Series here this weekend. A lot of my time is around
baseball and his team. My daughter’s also
involved which softball. Room mom, so just really
active in my kid’s and family and making the best of our time, you know, our free time that we have. – [Mike] Yeah, I know
those sports schedules with the kids of that age
can be pretty demanding. We have a couple people in
our family going through that. But it’s really cool that
you’re able to carve out time to be at a lot of those events and it must be difficult. You know, kind of on that note, is your employer pretty flexible
with that kind of stuff? – [Ronette] Yeah, I mean, the high level is I’m a consultant and I have clients that meet expectations. And I’m a hybrid of a salesperson as well. So the good news is I can
almost work from anywhere and I make my own schedule
in terms of what makes sense for me to schedule calls
and meet with my clients, as well as do business development and bring on some new clients. My kid had a tournament in San Diego and I worked about three of the five days that we had off there. And some of the games were during the day, and came back to work and scheduled calls and got through my month-end close reviews and continued on with emails. It really is, especially these days, really nice to have and have
control of your schedule and not have to be physically
in an office nine to five. And I think, especially
for someone like me who’s a breadwinner. You know, my husband, fortunate, is a stay-at-home dad, to be able to have the
challenges of being a mom, a working mom, but still
be able to participate in school activities and in
after school activities as well. – [Mike] Yeah, that’s an awesome setup that you’ve been able to structure there. So I know we just moved into
career path a little bit there, so let’s just hop right into it. So tell me about what you’re doing or tell us about what you’re doing today? – [Ronette] Sure. So I am a Southern California lead and startup CFO consultant with Countsy. And Countsy is an
outsourced back office firm, that we basically outsource
all of the accounting, finance, and HR services for
VC-backed startup companies. So for those of you who are not familiar with the VC world, there are
various startup companies that take outside investments. And when they do, these investors expect a good discipline in
infrastructure and formality in issuing financials and
back office structure, especially around local requirements around taxes and labor law. So once a founder gets funded, Countsy will come in and we will provide a part-time CFO, accounting,
and HR resources, so that that founder can
focus on the business and we just take all the back
office off their shoulders. And so generally, we’re with a client for two to three years
until they grow so big, if they need it, hire their
in-house teams themselves. And so my particular role
is I spend 50% of my time as a CFO of a handful of clients. I have about six clients that I’m a CFO which is always exciting
because these clients are in various stages of growth. Some just got funded. Some just closed a 30 million round. And so to see these clients start from literally their garage to raising close to 50, 60 million and employing hundreds of
employees is really cool. So I enjoy still being a CFO. I wanna be relevant. I wanna know what
challenges my clients have and what we need as CFOs. And that’s a big part of that
variety of work that I have. The other 50% of my time,
I’m in business development. And so I’m keeping in touch
with the VC community, the startup community and founders and continuing to talk to founders to see if Countsy would
be a good fit for them. – [Mike] Got it. And I’m curious, you
know, we’re as a business, we’re a little bit unique in that two of the founders
are accountants, right, but when you, and no need to speak to a specific client, but if you could like
broadly stereotype founders in the tech space, like where would you put
their financial literacy? – [Ronette] Yeah, so it varies. I have clients that founders
are finance background, but they know that they can’t
spend their time doing this and they need to hand it off ’cause they need to focus on the business. I have founders that are
very product tech-based that don’t know a thing about QuickBooks that need us to take care of. So it just varies across that spectrum. What generally happens
because our startup founders, especially here in LA,
they’re very frugal, they’re very resourceful, and especially these days
with the cloud-based tools, like FloQast, right? I mean, there’s so many
things that integrate that really, if you’re business savvy and you understand some
sense of transactions, you don’t have to be an accountant to issue financials for
a very small business. What ends up happening
is the business grows and we find that the founders
are spending their time, you know, 10 o’clock in the evening or the weekends doing accounting stuff. And they’re finding that, “That’s not the best use of my time “and that’s not what I
wanna spend my time with.” And then and/or they find out a hard way, you know, a year down the road, finding out you know, they’re going through
due diligence process and they’re asking for financials and they don’t have anything. And then fortunately when that happens, its fire drill, they get things together. So it generally happens
one of those two ways where a CEO is wanting
to do stuff on their own and be resourceful and we
keep in touch with ’em. And eventually they run out of time themselves and wanna outsource it, or they get into a fire drill situation where their about to close a round and they have some questions and don’t have answers. – [Mike] Yeah, that’s
a very common problem we’ve heard and it’s amazing how much that due diligence process,
when it’s not clean, can hold up a round end. You know, in the venture world, I know for us personally, it’s like when you get close to wanting to close that round of funding, you generally ramp up
spend and the burn goes up and you kind of need the money now, and then a three-month
delay from diligence can cause a really big problem. – [Ronette] Or even worse,
you don’t have the financials and you’re working on a term sheet with a potential acquisition. And because your sales
numbers aren’t timed to the financials as what’s in the bank, you’re losing points or
digits on that term sheet which I’ve seen as well. So my favorite client
is a serial entrepreneur because generally those guys come in, they’ve already been
through that bad experience and they immediately wanna
outsource from the beginning. And they understand that when
we don’t do things right, there’s consequences down the road. – [Mike] Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. They learn their first time around. It’s good that the issues
are corrected later. These are two items that
aren’t really contemplated a whole lot when you think
about finance and accounting is like the impact on a
round or a M&A or an IPO. So anyway, that’s really good stuff. So let’s keep going back. Where were you before Countsy? – [Ronette] Yeah, so that is one of the things I wanted to talk about. I fortunately have a
very flexible schedule, I mean, it’ll make my schedule. I feel like it’s because
of where my career path’s taken me to get there, right? I mean, I don’t want anyone
to think that they can immediately have this type of work-life balance, we’ll call it. A little aging myself, I think, with that. But immediately out the door, right? So my career path was Ernst and Young, you know, alumni like you. I was six years in big,
back then it was Big Six, but Big Four accounting firm and had some great clients. Was in the startup community then, tech. Was around with the dot-com boom and everybody going IPO, spending lots of time at the printers. And to be honest, I was
gonna be that partner. You know, I was on the partner track. I got early promoted to manager. I was on the right accounts and I was definitely on the partner track. And it’s kind of funny
because I already mentioned the baseball thing, but I had, I had a vision of myself, by the way, I didn’t have kids back then. But visioned myself– – [Mike] Things changed
a little bit, yeah. – [Ronette] Yeah, exactly. I had a vision of myself not being able to go to little league games or showing up to little league games with my phone attached to my ear or looking at work papers. Right, and back then, you worked hard copy work paper binders. And so I just looked for
different opportunities. And I made my way to a public company, Fortune 500 company,
Korn Ferry International. And it was a great transition
from public accounting ’cause I was their corporate controller. I was primarily responsible
for all the SEC reporting and SOX and implementing
SOX globally, worldwide. So we had about 40 countries that we consolidated
financials here in LA. And I did that for a couple years. And it was a great transition from being in public accounting and going to a private IPO public company and understanding how it is on the inside and what needs to get done there. Then I went to a startup company. It’s called– – [Mike] Sorry, I wanna circle back. I wanna touch on that audit
to accounting transition. So it seems like you’ve been in tech, basically you were in tech
your entire audit career. That’s correct. So you got to see a lot
of high-growth companies, presumably, pretty early-stage
going through the IPO process and having a lot of fun doing that and learning a lot. And then you rounded out your skillset by going to Korn Ferry which
is bigger, more established. And you stepped into like a
process-driven environment, I have to imagine. But then at the same time,
you’re implementing SOX. That’s a huge project to all of sudden be, you’re putting a lot of
change on a big organization in Korn Ferry. So can you just talk about what that implementation process looked like? And then I have a follow-up question, did that help you in the CFO role, like what you learned about
the business operations? – [Ronette] Yeah, definitely. The interesting thing about
Korn Ferry at the time is it is a big company, I think it was three to 5,000 employees. But it’s like a conglomerate of a lot of different small offices. Right, because you know
from Asia to Europe, to Latin America, you know these are smaller offices that we’re doing, creating offices. So it was, you know, it’s
certainly a big company that’s been around a long time. So to your point, yes very
traditional, very corporate. I mean, we were wearing
suits to the office everyday. I still think they wear suits. – [Mike] Wow. – [Ronette] Yeah, they do. Because you’re an executive recruiting and we’re selling services,
you have to look the part and you’re meeting–
– That makes sense. – [Ronette] With executives. So I’m pretty sure today,
they’re still doing that. But it was a small office
in that I think we had maybe 10 accountants which is not a lot. You know, which is not a ton
for how big the company is. 10 accountants in the corporate office. – [Mike] Right. And then presumably people out
on-site at the subsidiaries. – [Ronette] Exactly. So basically my job was to not only do the corporate accounting, which was probably, like the
people that fell in corporate was no more than 100 people. So it was a small company in of itself. – [Mike] Interesting. – [Ronette] Yeah, because a lot of ’em were part of the business, part of the North America business. And so we had less than 100 employees in the corporate office. Just think of it as back offices for Korn Ferry. And then we had 30, literally
30 offices worldwide. And they consolidated into regions, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. And so there was a main
consolidator in Europe that was our main point person that would consolidate the
10 or so European offices and same with Asia. Not so much Latin America at that time. And so at this time, when
I left public accounting, it was definitely the time where SOX was being rolled. And you know, obviously
hiring someone ex-Big Four was definitely a value to the company because we knew what
processes and documentation needed to happen around internal controls. And so it was, you know,
I think the good news is we were able to talk to the regions who then rolled it out to the offices about the processes that we’re
gonna change going forward. And everybody was just
really, really embracing the changes of what had to happen. So you know, I mean, I
literally went in office and these guys were still doing
checks out of a checkbook, literally out of a checkbook. So that was a change that we had to have. So I traveled quite a bit. So again, not being
married, not having kids, it was great opportunity
for me to go to Asia, for me to go to Europe and
to meet with our account, you know, meet with the offices
as someone from corporate and talk about the changes and
expectations going forward. Understanding the culture changes and then really just
educating them on U.S. GAAP and SOX implementation. So I wanna say that
they were very embracing and pretty much made
the changes immediately, you know, outside of what
had to happen culturally because you know, at the time, at least I remember in London, these guys weren’t writing checks. These guys were literally
EFTs, you know, everything. Right, they’re way ahead. Whereas a country like France, that’s all they were doing,
was just writing checks. You know, and was literally
like the three-part check. So you know, you just kind of work with those different cultures that are advanced or have a certain way that you have to adjust
your processes accordingly. So yeah, it taught me a lot
in terms of international, in terms of what we have to
do for statutory requirements overseas, internationally, tax in a company, relationships, and just legal structure, right? Just US legal structure
and why have these. So that’s a huge, in today’s world, you know, fast forward to today, when I talk to some startup companies, you know, some of ’em are
simple, C corp, US-based, but more and more have
a subsidiary overseas that is just you know, in
London doing engineering work, or just in Taiwan doing product work. And you have to be able to say, Okay, well that’s gonna
be a separate entity and this is kind of how we
have to set up the books. And we have to talk about tax, your tax partner as what’s advantageous. And how do we bring in legal to make sure? And so it’s just really
bringing the three together to make sure things are set
up right from the beginning. So we’re not caught later saying, “Oh, well shoot. “Now we needed two different tax returns “and it’s been a whole year, 2019.” So I have to go back and kind
of bifurcate the financials which is, you know, a nightmare. So you know, just fast forward to today, that international
experience and understanding the legal structure and tax implications of having overseas activity
was certainly important in how startup companies
are setting up companies and making sure that they’re
set up correctly today. – [Mike] Very cool, very cool. All right, so sorry, you
want from Korn Ferry, now back to the startup world. – [Ronette] Yes, so very
exciting time in startup. PriceGrabber.com was my first startup. At the time that I joined, we
were less than 100 employees. I wanna says we were about 70 employees. And I was their head of
finance that they hired. And literally within a couple
months that I was hired, we were acquired by Experian. The exit was $475 million. And these were, they took no investments,
so it was bootstrapped. – [Mike] All right, good for the founders. – [Ronette] Yes, yeah. And the employees. ‘Cause at the time, they were very new. You know, the startup
world was very generous in giving employees a piece of it, you know, a piece of the
company and stock options. – [Mike] That’s awesome. – [Ronette] Yeah, so what a way to start my first startup, right? (Mike chuckles) It’s like, you know, your
flight and you’re in first class and then you’re like, “Okay, well I’ll back
to the back of the bus.” And this is the real world. – [Mike] It’s so easy, it’s free money. – [Ronette] Right, you know,
we’re cash flow positive. We have revenue, that
we’re profitable, right? No, that’s not how it is. So it was a startup in that sense, but we got acquired quickly. So we had to get absorbed by a big, public company once again. And from talking about Korn Ferry and my experience there, I’m now the exact flip
of what I was, right? I’m the subsidiary
reporting back to corporate. So number one, I get what corporate needs and why they need it. And I was able to implement and formalize because even though the company had exited in that amount, the processes weren’t quite
as formalized as we’d want. I mean, the company
grew so fast so quickly. And so there was a lot of
processes that we had to implement to get all the checks
and balances in place and deliver monthly GAAP
financials to our corporate office on a monthly basis. So that was another good experience. And played, again, two roles there. And I was head of finance
of what was now close to 150 employees, growing very, very fast, but at the same time, accompanying our CEO to corporate, talking about the business and where we’re at and
forecasting the business and talking about our strategy and how we’re gonna meet numbers. So that was a really good experience, you know, definitely, right-hand person to the
CEO in terms of joining him to corporate, talking about the business, discussing variance analysis versus budget and talking
about the forecast and where we were for the
next quarter and year. So a lot of experience and good experience that I was exposed to, not only a great corporate
office, Experian Interactive is who PriceGrabber rolled up to. And just kind of having
that exposure directly with a CEO. I mean, that’s really where
I fell in love with startup. It’s kind of funny ’cause
I mentioned the suits. And the first thing that was
excited about going to startup is, wow, I don’t have
two different closets where I have my– (Mike laughs) Closet is my suit that I have to put on Monday through Friday. And then my left side of my closet, this is my wardrobe that I would wear and it was now like one wardrobe, right? And that’s, I mean, it’s small,
but it’s a big deal, right? You get dressed every morning. And it’s not just getting dressed, it’s feeling like that
this is the place for you, like this fits your personality. And so that’s kind of why– – [Mike] Yeah. Sorry to cut you off, but as an auditor, you were in the tech space and I was in film and entertainment back when I was doing it. You know, we’re wearing business casual, and everyone’s walking around the office in T-shirts, shorts, a hat and you just feel so out of place as the nerdy auditor there. – [Ronette] Yeah, I mean and
while I was Ernst and Young, they did allow us to go from
suits to business casual which was was still pretty, it was a suit without the jacket. Let’s be honest. – [Mike] Yeah, (laughs) that’s all it was. – [Ronette] Take off the
tie, take off the jacket, you’re still in a suit. And for the women out there knew, I mean, we still had to wear pantyhose, closed-toed shoes, no shoulders showing, like the whole bit. So it was still, our business casual was still pretty business. It was more business than today’s world. Whereas startup, you’re in jeans and a nice T-shirt, right. And I never wore flip-flops, but I definitely started
wearing open-toed shoes. And it really does make a difference because you know, Mike. I mean, you’re the CEO of your company and you’re in a Dodger hat and a T-shirt. I mean, that’s you, right? That’s Mike. That’s Mike Whitmire. Find him on the weekend,
he’s gonna be in a T-shirt and Dodger hat, right? – [Mike] I like literally,
yeah, that’s weekend outfit. – [Ronette] Exactly. I mean, it’s a small thing,
but there’s a lot to be said about mirroring that personal in business, so that you feel like yourself at work. You don’t feel like you have to act or dress a certain way
that’s not authentic to you. So that was an eye-opening moment for me. And you know, I was very grateful and had great opportunities
at Ernst and Young. I worked with some of
the best partners in tech and the smartest partners, and had a lot of great
opportunity, being a woman. You know, all the time I
was the highest-level woman in the room. At Woodland Hills, I was a manager, I was like the only
woman from my level up. And I had a lot of great
opportunities there. And same thing for Korn
Ferry International. Like I mentioned, not
only was I able to travel, but I implemented global, I implemented SOX globally. Another project, we didn’t touch upon, but it’s an interesting one, is you know, we moved. Our office had to move. And it was about 200 employees that had to move literally two blocks. And we scoped out a place
that was completely gutted. And they said, “Ronette, we’re
putting you on this project.” Right, and you’re like, “Okay I’m the accountant behind the desk. “How am I gonna do a build-out
and move 200 people?” I remember my boss, who at
the time was a controller. So I was I assistant controller. And he said, “Ronette,
you’re smart, your organized, “you’ll get it done.” Right, and I’m like,
“Okay, well that’s great. “They believe that I can get this done.” I remember sitting in my first contractor, like literally the general
contractor, the architect, the landlord and me, and they were talking about conduits. And I’m like, “Okay.” I came home that night and
I talked to my husband. I’m like, “What the heck is a conduit?” (Mike laughs) Bring it to me. And so, it’s all about, so it was a tough process
’cause it was diving into something that I had no familiar, you know, I didn’t know about any of it. But it was all it really
was is, it was coordination. It was staying on budget. It was communicating
with our head executives as to what finishes we wanted to do. It was making sure our architect was giving us what we wanted and then our general
contractor was staying on time. And it was a lot of
meetings of making sure that all happened. And any issues, you just
raised to our executive team to let ’em know. “Hey, we’re running behind.” Hey, instead of this stone
because it’s not available, now it’s, I remember trying
to, like they were going on strike for the steel and
we couldn’t get the steel to put in walls. It was just crazy. But and I remember to our
in-house legal at the time and saying, “Gosh, this
is such a project.” You know, the good news
is they took everything, for the most part, off my
plate so I could focus on this. And he said, “Ronette, you
are gonna have thick skin “after this project.” And he was right. He was right. I was able to hold my own and
have difficult conversations and communicate expectations, and have those conversations that people generally don’t like to have. And so it was an interesting project that I was put on again, talking about the
opportunities that I’ve had, it was an interesting
project that I was put on that really helped me, just really helped me be more
aggressive in the workplace in terms of you know, you don’t always have to like nod your head, and “Yes, oh, of course
I can get it done.” No, I can’t get it done. Like that’s an impossible request, no. So you know, everyone has
a hard time saying no. Yeah. – [Mike] But it is okay
to say no sometimes. You gotta work on what’s the
most valuable stuff, right, what’s gonna drive value for the business. This facilities and moving work, this is something that people
definitely don’t think about as they’re moving into the CFO role. It is the CFO responsibility,
doing all this stuff. And I can relate. I had to oversee this
process for FloQast moving one, two, three times now. And negotiating with general contractors is not the most fun thing in the world. What ultimately happens
is I end up auditing all of the prices I get from them, right? And I highly recommend
for everyone watching this that you audit all the bills that you get from their general contractor ’cause they are made up and
they come out of the ether. But yeah, it’s just one of
those administrative tasks. You’re like, “Wow, I’m shocked that a CFO “kind of handles this.” But it makes a ton of sense and it’s something that
important to learn about. – [Ronette] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So the experience at
PriceGrabber was great because it really turned me on to, you know, I fell in love with startup and this was really for me because you know, the
progression of my career got me to the point to where
I was really able to feel like this is where I belong,
this is where I add value. Really having exposure to
the CEO directly was huge. And having an integral
part of the business where I had a seat at the table and I was head of finance
and people listened and people, when I said, “No, we can’t be running expense reports “like that anymore,” people adjusted. And so that was a great part of really being able to add value and see the immediate
results in the startup world. – [Mike] Yeah, that’s really,
it’s cool that you found the space you like, right? It’s like the industry that you like and the stage of business
that you like as well. I don’t think a lot of
people really get there. It almost seemed intentional for you. Like when I think back on the
first portion of your career, you’re talking about you
were at Ernst and Young, you were working with earlier stage, and then seeing through IPOs as well. So that’s like many different
phases of a business, is going from zero to IPO. And then you want to the bigger business, got to learn how that operates and started to get with SOX compliance and all that stuff, moved to a startup. Then you saw the acquisition. And then you started to, you
got to do all the finance. And suddenly, these facilities,
opportunities opened up. And it was just like, I
mean, how planned was that? That’s like a very well-rounded resume for getting the CFO position. Was that intentional or
did it organically happen? – [Ronette] No, it really
organically happened. And like I said, I just had
really good opportunities of people who introduced
me to the next opportunity and really scoping it out and talking to the right people and you know, there’s always a crossroads. And you’re not quite sure
which way you’re gonna go. Because I knew when I want to startup that I’d be giving, potentially giving up and being obsolete in the public world. So I knew once I want to startup, I said, you know, if I stay
there four or five years, going back to a public
company could be dangerous because I’ve been out
of the loop for so long. And even though I wasn’t making, you know, you can always go back, but you’d be a little obsolete. So it was definitely a crossroads for me. And I think the answer is,
there’s no wrong answer. I think I would have been
successful either way, but I talked to so many people and I had so many mentors along the way that really knew me and just laid it out and were transparent with the reality of working
for a public company or the reality of working of a startup and helping me make my choice and helping me make the
choices along the way. So I think definitely,
you’ll have different mentors throughout your career process, as you go into different
stages of companies, just different industries. Those mentors or peers are so important to bounce things off of
and get people’s input to make sure that you’ve
considered everything. – [Mike] Yeah, and in
terms of just getting the CFO role at all, it can be challenging
to get that opportunity. And at Countsy, that’s awesome. It sounds like networking was a big, first of all, being good at what you do is a great way of networking, right? People wanna hire you wherever they go. But beyond that, was there
anything like formulaic you did for networking? Is there a way you think about it? Can you touch on that a little bit more? – [Ronette] Yeah, well I think, I think because I fell in
love with the startup world, I naturally enjoyed being
part of that community and meeting more and more
people who were founders. And it’s a cycle, right? It’s a cycle. Like you mentioned, the
founders of PriceGrabber, many of the people
there that were early on went ahead and founded their own companies or second companies. And I kept in touch with them. And they have friends that
founded their own companies. And just kind of continues to grow as you. It’s that once you’re
passionate about something, you really enjoy doing it and
it just kind of flourishes on it’s own. It’s not forced. It’s not something you have to do. And so that, I think
that’s how I got into that, is the experience that I had, knowing that I really did
enjoy working with founders and I enjoyed that startup community and continuing to be
active, to be active there. The way that I came into Countsy, and it’s interesting because I did go to another
startup after PriceGrabber. It was not the same story. It’s not same sort of experience as I had, but I really did learn a lot. I was there just as long and we pivoted and had trouble raising money. I really did learn much more. You know, when you’re
watching that checkbook and making sure certain
checks don’t get cashed, so you have–
– Yeah. – [Ronette] You learn a lot, right. When I was there, that’s
kind of when I said, Gosh, you don’t need full-time CFOs or full-time controllers
on these small companies. And I felt like at the time, we were just, it’s like you know, figure it out. And you figure it out and make it happen. And it’s like, wait.
– Yeah, totally. – [Ronette] I barely have
enough money in the bank. And I have very little
room and time for mistakes. And now I’m trying to figure it out. And I just felt like
there was a better process to leverage people’s experience
in growing companies. And so I really, on my own, knew I wanted to do interim CFO work. And when I talked to a
couple of different firms, I really enjoyed talking to Countsy because number one, they’ve been doing this
for a very long time. And number two, they were
out of Mountain View. And what else, who’s gonna
have a better experience at that time than out of Mountain View? So they hired me as their first hire in LA to grow the business here in LA. So it was definitely, again, another interesting experience because now they wanted me to sell. Well I’m not a salesperson. You know, I’m not a salesperson, I’ve been an accountant. I’ve been a CPA. And you know, at first, the good news is when they gave me the opportunity, there wasn’t a ton of pressure in sales. It was, “Look, Ronette,
just get to know what we do. “Get to know the community “and let’s just see how this works out.” And luckily, I was able
to close some deals and start that and get more
confident in the company that they said, “Well’s
there’s something out in LA “that we need to expand.” So outside of Mountain View,
LA was the first market that we expanded to. And I was the first hire to help grow that community and business. And so, fast forward five years later. – [Mike] Sorry to cut you off, but as you know, I know
Mairtini over at Countsy. And she’s obviously in
the Mountain View office. How did you get connected with, they were Accretive Solutions at the time, how’d you get connected with now Countsy to even get that opportunity? – [Ronette] Well it was interesting. So Gavin Block, who’s
our now market leader, he worked at that time, I
believe with Robert Half. And we had a relationship because he helped me hire
my interim controller at one point at PriceGrabber. And so we were a network. And he was in transition. And we had literally just got on the phone a month earlier and said, “I’m in transition, I’m looking.” And I said, “I’m in transition “and I wanna do like interim CFO stuff.” Like this is something that I wanna do and I’m talking to people about it. So when he landed the job at Accretive, he saw that we had this startup community, our startup business and he immediately introduced me to Mairtini and said, “We’ve gotta hire Ronette.” So yeah, definitely through Gavin and definitely through
my network was that. And every job that I have because everybody always asks, right, every job that I’ve had along the way has been a referral, right. It hasn’t been, you know,
even I worked for Korn Ferry, it hasn’t been through a recruiter. It’s been through a
referral through a network. So it’s definitely goes to say something about the network that you build and the confidence in the people that you work with or work
for in referring to you. – [Mike] That’s so, like I wanna stress to the audience how important that is. There’s a very real opportunity for you. If you’re great at what you do and people enjoy working for you, that you might never have
to prepare a resume again because they’re just gonna hire you into their new companies
as they move around. Like, you know, I’ve
hired executives who have, you’d think, “Like oh my
gosh, you’re hiring a VP, “their resume better be pretty good.” None of my VPs have handed me resumes because it’s all referral-based. And I don’t and to hear your resume, I wanna hear from someone
who worked for you and can verify that you were
a great person to work with. So definitely important and
like maintaining the network, being good at what you do and being a good person that
people want to work with is the best way to just
propel your career. – [Ronette] Absolutely. Absolutely. Having good business
acumen, it’s easy to say. It’s not easy to do. And you don’t realize, not
just in the business world, in any world, in your community, you never realize where
you’re gonna cross paths in the future or where
somebody might know somebody that puts the breaks on something because you ruffled
feathers at some point. It’s always good to make
sure that, you know, I always tell people, especially when today’s world, people are
changing jobs more often than years ago when people
stayed at a job for 10 years. Look, what people are gonna remember is how you leave and transition, not how you got there and what you did. So when you leave– – [Mike] That’s a really good point, yeah. – [Ronette] Right, when you leave give the proper notice. Talk about that transition. Don’t leave people hanging. Make sure the people around
you are taken care of, whoever’s gonna take care of. And that opportunity is waiting for you and there’s always that
pressure of, “Well, we want you “to start now,” and “But I didn’t give two weeks.” And it’s like look, you’ve
probably been waiting for a new CFO already
for two or three months. What’s another two or three weeks that I need to give to my other job? Because I wanna leave them in good hands. I want to make sure that my handoff is so that I don’t
leave and they don’t go, “Gosh, what the heck was Ronette doing “the last two months?” – [Mike] Yeah, that’s really. – [Ronette] And that
happens because there wasn’t a proper transition. Like they didn’t realize, “Oh,
I was working on that project “but it was stopped because
we didn’t have budget.” Whatever it is. But if you have a proper transition, and you go through the list of everything that you do and all your open items, then hopefully when you
leave it’s not a, oh my gosh, she was all over the place, right? Because that’s not gonna
help anybody anywhere. – [Mike] Yeah, that’s super smart. Like it goes to the human nature of what have you done
for me lately, basically. And yeah, you can have a
great three or four-year run, but if you leave people hanging, that’s what they’ll remember. – That’s what–
– That’s a really good point. – [Ronette] They’ll remember. Yep, that’s what they’ll remember. And the same goes with,
and I see this a lot today because we transition a
lot off and on for firms. But same goes when you start a new job. And I’ve seen a lot of people come, they start a new job and they wanna come in
as Superman and the hero. And they sit there and they talk a lot of crap about the person that was in that seat before, right? And you know what? Don’t make assumptions that this is all that the person had to do. I mean, the company was growing really, really fast at the time. This person was not only doing accounting, but was taking out the
trash and ordering the food and making sure, you know– – [Mike] Moving buildings? – [Ronette] Right, moving into buildings. And so when you come in and
people are really judgemental or really critical as, “Oh, well the accounting
here was horrible.” Like I see that so much when people come on board, and it does nobody any favors. Like I know you wanna look like the hero. You’ll look the hero if
you take what you have and make what you need
to without degrading the people that were there before ’cause you don’t know
what situation they’re in. You don’t know all the
stuff that they were doing. You don’t know what budget they had. So it goes both ways,
you exiting, offboarding into one company, make
sure you do that right. And when you onboard, you take what you have and make it better and don’t worry about
what happened in the past. – [Mike] Yeah, that’s not
a good look to come in and bash people really for no reason. There’s not benefit to
that, it’s just a bad look. And also presumably, some
of team is still there and you know, you’re kind
of in a roundabout way, bashing their work and you’re
still working with them. And that’s just not a good look, okay. – [Ronette] No, no, yeah. – [Mike] So that was super helpful. I think you have a,
that’s an awesome career and very rounded out. The question I’d love to end with is, and you might actually do this. Like, at some of your clients
do you go, you work with them and you help scale them up. And then when it is time
for a full-time CFO, do you help in that hiring process at all? – [Ronette] You know by
the time we transition off, which is about two or three years, the first hire that they
really hire, it’s different, but the first hire is usually
some type of VP of finance or maybe even a controller. So we will often and variously– – [Mike] Are they VP of finance, but head of the department or is there a CFO already? They’re basically head
of finance at that point. – [Ronette] Right. I wanna say when we roll
off, they’re hesitant to hire a CFO immediately because still there’s no need
for a full-time CFO just yet. (Mike laughs) Exactly. I think that comes down the road. So by the time we roll off, it’s generally like a VP of finance, still head of finance,
probably acting as a CFO, but there is no title there. But that person is taking
on a lot of the duties and coordination that we have. So the answer is yes, from the most part when, hopefully, we’re the
ones telling the client, “Look, it’s time that you
hire somebody in-house. “We’re struggling meeting some
of the needs that you have “and I feel like your business is growing “and you need somebody more
intimate in the business, “not somebody that’s
remote and on the outside.” So hopefully we’re the
first ones to tell them that they need to hire somebody. And generally we help them with the spec of, “Hey, this is the kind
of person that you need.” And then we always request that we help out with the interview. And we help give, you know,
a thumbs up or thumbs down. Some of our clients, unfortunately, they go on their own, they hire somebody, and then we work with them. And sometimes it works out
and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always helpful
when you can include us because number one, we
have a lot of experience of hiring and we know
kind of other skillsets and expertise that that
person needs to have in terms of where you are and
where you’re gonna grow to. – [Mike] Well that’s awesome to hear ’cause my question is, what I like to says is when
you’re hiring your replacement, what are you looking for and what are some interview questions? And yeah, like what are you
looking for from a background, and tangible, and just other areas? – [Ronette] Yeah, so you know, definitely the people that we’ve
hired to kind of take over some of the duties that we’re doing definitely are generally Big-Four CPAs and/or investment bankers. So they generally are at that level ’cause it’s a higher level,
generally a CPA or MBA, or somebody that’s come up
through the startup community and has done a lot of startups. – [Mike] So let’s come
from the perspective of they have a CPA background. So with that person,
what are you looking for? – [Ronette] Yeah, so
generally it’s hard to hire somebody straight our of Big Four, straight into a startup. Especially at this phase,
let’s just say it’s a Series B, they raise 20 million. There’s so much. You know, I have to say at that point, that head of finance or
that head of finance person, you know maybe 20 to 30%
is gonna be accounting, you know what they do, right? The other 23%, definitely
finance, forecasting, modeling. If they have to negotiate
debts and loans and financing. You know, they’re doing a lot of that. And then the other 30%
is likely gonna be HR, facilities, insurance
and business licenses, you know, working with our tax team. So it’s just gonna be kind of the plethora of all things within
the back office to run. So generally, if you
come up that CPA role, you have maybe 30%, but the rest, if you don’t have exposure to that, that’s kind of difficult to hire. So at that point, CPA, Big Four, local, you
know some type of discipline around understanding accounting and that discipline is super important. And then small business, like
actually getting into a medium to small business and running things. Have you ran– – [Mike] Where. – [Ronette] Yeah, have you– – [Mike] Yeah, where you have broader responsibility at that. – [Ronette] Yep and have
you ran a department? Have you built a department? Have you come in to something of nothing and created something, right? And a lot of, at least
in the startup world, and maybe this is why I enjoy it, a lot of it is chaotic. You’re coming into a
very chaotic environment and creating order. Right, you’re creating some organization, some processes, and order and you are not the good
guy all the time, right? A lot of time– – [Mike] (laughs) That is very true. – [Ronette] Yeah, you
are not the good guy. So sometimes it’s a, you know, this person keeps
turning in expense reports, but I have not seen one receipt. At this point, we’re
not gonna reimburse them until they can produce a receipt. Right, it’s that. And sometimes it’s a, “Why
haven’t we fired this person? “I’ve heard from this
person and this person “that they’re not meeting expectations “and now they’re being difficult “and now they’re barely
showing up to work. “Why haven’t we fired
this person already?” And that’s your job, right? As a CFO, it is your job. It is your job to mind the
finances of the company. It is your job to be
that partner of the CEO and from a finance perspective, give him your input into the
long-term financial health of the company. And also and that includes employees. And employees that are
productive versus not productive. And it includes a–
– Well and the reality is at most
startups and at tech startups, the vast majority of
the spend is on people. And that’s the area where you
really do need to focus on. And that’s another area that
I had to process as a CPA as how HR really rolls up into finance and how important that is
under the CFO function. – [Ronette] Absolutely. Yeah and you know what? You don’t have to be an HR expert, right? Because the California labor
laws change all the time. – [Mike] It’s so much. – [Ronette] Yeah, and then you don’t have to be an expert in accounting because hopefully you’ll
hire a good accountant that knows revenue recognition and the latest requirements there. You, as a CFO, you have to be able to oversee the back office functions and be supportive of the company growing and be supportive when
the company grows so fast that we can’t even hold
up the company, right? I mean, that is your job. So you don’t have to be an
expert in every little thing. You do have to be able to oversee it all, be very courageous in taking on tasks that you have no idea and
never had any exposure to. And you have to be able to
have very hard conversations. And sometimes the
conversations are with vendors. Some of the times it’s
with your salespeople that may or may not be producing. Sometimes it’s with the CEO and saying, look, I know you
want financials tomorrow, but here’s everything
that needs to get done and I don’t wanna give you something or give you something to
give to potential investors or a potential acquirer that’s
not gonna make any sense. ‘Cause all that’s gonna happen is we’re gonna do due diligence and they’re gonna have 50 questions that I can’t answer because we didn’t do
this correctly, right? And so it’s really about managing up and managing those expectations
and being really real with the work that needs to be done. Because the back office stuff also is, there’s a lot of little things that need to get done. And guess what? No one wants to hear about it. The CEO doesn’t hear about– (Mike laughs) Oh, we have to apply
for a business license and we have to file taxes. And oh, if we don’t have the license, we won’t have it. He doesn’t wanna hear about it or she. He or she does not wanna hear. What they wanna hear is it’s done. It’s done and it’s been taken care of. They don’t wanna hear
the details of everything you had to do to get there to get it done. They wanna hear that it’s done and that we’re at low risk. ‘Cause that’s the last piece of a CFO, is keeping the company,
you know, risk very low. And whether that’s from
an insurance perspective, whether that’s from a labor perspective, you know, a tax perspective, you know, you are responsible for making sure that the company’s not at risk. So that’s another big– – That.
– CFO. – [Mike] Yeah, that risk mitigator role is another interesting
component of this whole thing. Well that was awesome. I’ve taken up way too much of your time. I wanna wrap this now, so last question I like
to ask is, you know, as you kind of reflect on all the career we just talked through
and different areas, what would you say are some
of the biggest takeaways and things that our audience
should really latch onto and focus on? – [Ronette] Just know that, I mean for me, and maybe I’m
a little more traditional, the work, you have to put in the work. You have to put in the work. I cannot tell you. Back in my Ernst and Young days, we worked 80-hour weeks on those IPO, dot-com days. No doubt. You know, so I guess when I say that I can go to my son’s
baseball game during the day and come back and work, you have to put in the work
to be able to get to a point where you have a little
bit more flexibility and responsibility in your schedule. – [Mike] Totally and
it’s like you don’t know what my 20s looked like. I worked a whole lot in my 20s. That was something else. – [Ronette] Absolutely. And so then number one is you have to put in the work. At the end of the day, and you helped me reflect on my career just in
this conversation alone, like all of them were stepping stones. Yeah, all of them were stepping stones to where you’re at. And I couldn’t be the CFO consultant that I am today without all of those learnings along the way. Some of them were great experiences and some of ’em were
really tough experiences. (Mike laughs) Very stressful experiences, right? – [Mike] In fact, there’s
generally a correlation between learning opportunity and working a ton of hours with it. But at the end of the
day, you learn so much and it does help you in your career, yeah. – [Ronette] It really does. And then I would say,
so the one takeaway is you gotta work hard for what you want and number two is find that
passion that drives you, so that work isn’t work. I’m mean I, like we talked, I just came back from vacation. I was out for two weeks which is a long time
to be out on vacation. But honestly, I was
excited to get back at it. You know, granted, I still
could be on the beach, sipping a margarita, but I was excited to get
back in touching base with my clients, seeing where
my team was at with close, talking to my network, closing a deal. And I think that just goes to say that I really enjoy what I do and I feel like, you know, once you find that passion of something that
you’re really excited about and a community that you
wanna be involved with or a purpose that you wanna be part of to drive forward, to grow. I’m really excited about this
startup community here in LA. I’ve seen it five years ago. It’s nothing where it is today. We have 300 different VCs in LA. – [Mike] It is genuinely exciting, yeah. – [Ronette] Yeah, and every
different type of company, especially in LA, is getting funded. You know, I have a couple clients that are in the entertainment
production space. Five years ago, no one was funding
production startup companies. So being part of
something, watching it grow and really genuinely, authentically wanting to be part of that and see that grow and do what I can to help it grow healthy
is really a big part of how I feel. It is why I’m able to get up everyday, and enjoy what I do. – [Mike] That’s awesome. So if I could just summarize it for you. It’s expect to work a lot of hours, but you should do that
’cause that’s how you learn and set yourself up to be a CFO. And then find something
you’re passionate about along the way there, and that’s how you’re gonna feel like you’re never working again
and you’re gonna enjoy what you’re doing. Is that fair? – [Ronette] Yeah, yeah. – [Mike] Awesome. – [Ronette] The final note
is people, your network. It is your core and you cannot go anywhere or build a team without it. And I’ve hired a lot of people. I’ve worked for a lot of people and that’s really, that network and where you grow it, and sometimes you haven’t
talked to people for 10 years. Like me and you haven’t talked in a couple years, right, Mike? I mean, I know you’ve been busy. But you don’t have to keep in touch. You don’t have to have coffee once a quarter to keep in touch and it’s really just building that network and continuing to be productive and being able to reach out to people and be helpful and valuable to them. It’s so important. It really goes a long way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to startup companies in a sales deal and it wasn’t a good fit. It wasn’t a good fit, it
wasn’t the right time, but they wanted me to spend an hour and look at their deck, or, “What do you think about this?” and I’ve given advice and it taken 10, 15 minutes of my time. I can probably count on two hands how many times that’s turned
into a referral to a– – Wow.
– Of business. Yeah. And so it really, you know, that saying you give, you know, it comes back around eventually is definitely true. I truly believe that what
goes around comes around. And I don’t give for something in return, but knowing that, hey, this
person’s gonna think of me the next time they talk to somebody and say, “Oh, I’m looking
for a CFO, an outsource.” And they’re like, “Oh my
gosh, you have to Ronette.” I mean that’s the email, I told, you are the only
person that came to mind. Here’s a referral. And getting a referral in
like is amazing, right? I mean, because now, hopefully
they’re just talking to you and nobody else. But you’re already getting
that strong referral and that first conversation is
pretty strong to begin with. – [Mike] Awesome, that’s
an excellent point. All right, well let’s
wrap it on that thought. So thank you so much,
Ronette, for joining us today. That was super insightful. And yeah, we’ll go ahead
and share this out. I hope it’s helpful for the audience and drove value for everyone. – [Ronette] Yep, thanks, Mike. – [Mike] All right, thank you. And I’m a show off the
Dodger hat one more time before I go. There we go.
– Yeah, do it. Go Dodgers, I love it. – [Mike] All right. Yeah, have a great rest of your day. Thanks again, Ronette. – [Ronette] Take it easy, thank you. (upbeat music) ♪ FloQast ♪ ♪ Podcast ♪

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